Claims that a particular policy has been a 'success' are commonplace in political life. However, a few of these claims are justified in any systematic way. This article seeks to remedy this omission by offering a heuristic which practitioners and academics can utilize to approach the question of whether a policy is, or was, successful. It builds initially on two sets of literature: Boyne's work on public sector improvement; and the work of Bovens et al. on success, failure and policy evaluation. We discuss the epistemological issues involved in whether it is possible to produce an objective measure of 'success'. Subsequently, we present a framework for assessing success, focusing on three dimensions: process success; programmatic success; and political success. We then move on to raise a series of what we term complexity issues in relation to success for whom; variations across time, space and culture; and methodological issues.
- public sector improvement
- policy evaluation